Over the weekend a friend shared on TLT’s Facebook page this post from The Daily, which compares school lunches from the fattest and fittest counties in the nation, Greene County, AL and Routt County, CO, respectively.
According to The Daily, the school food in Routt County, where only 14% of adults are obese, includes “seasonal vegetables, fresh-baked bread and hot entrees” and ”[a]ll lunches feature a salad bar stocked with seasonal fruits and vegetables, as well as a deli station with fresh-baked bread and deli meats sliced in-house.” Meanwhile, in Greene County, where 48% of adults are obese, kids are served “chicken nuggets, hot dogs, Salisbury steak and sloppy joes.”
Not surprising, I suppose. But, still, this comparison really irked me.
First of all, nowhere does the piece mention that the full price for an elementary school lunch in Steamboat Springs is $3.00 (with the price rising to $4.00 in high school), whereas last year the full price for an elementary school lunch in Greene County was a mere $1.25 (though, due to changes in the federal law, that price will go up next year.) This price differential clearly plays a role in the ability of Steamboat Springs to craft its impressive menu of “Maple-tamarind glazed chicken over Jasmine rice” and “Thai chicken curry over jasmine rice with full salad bar.”
Second, let’s consider the cultural factors at play. In a chart at the end of the post, The Daily discloses that the median income in Greene County is $22,000 and over 80% of the population is African-American. Routt County, home to affluent Steamboat Springs, has a population that’s 96% white with a median income of over $60,000. So is it any wonder that parents in Routt County demand — and students are much more likely to accept — food which, in the words of The Daily, is “worthy of a chic, health-conscious restaurant in New York or Los Angeles?”
Finally, the implicit point of the exercise seems to be to indict Greene County schools for perpetuating the obesity in their communities. But the Greene County menu at the end of the post didn’t strike me as that egregious, all things considered. There does seem to be an over-reliance on potatoes (and, thanks to the successful lobbying of potato growers, the new federal school meal standards won’t prevent that practice from continuing), and the entrees tend to fall into the “doctored junk food” category of pizza, chicken nuggets and hot dogs. That said, kids in Greene County are also offered fresh fruit and vegetable sides like carrot sticks, apple slices, orange wedges and fresh grapes. Here in Houston ISD, the nation’s seventh largest district, we were thrilled when such items started appearing on our menus a while back.
So while there’s clearly room for improvement in Greene, it feels unfair to compare it to a county which places an unusually high value on exceptional school food, has a student population better conditioned to accept such food, and has affluent parents who can pay the higher price tag that comes with it.
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